Zip in the step
So far this season, we’ve started games with our fair share of possession but it’s been quite passive possession. There’s not been much zip to it and it’s usually failed to stretch opponents. The Manchester City game was a bit of an exception where we had possession, moved the ball well and had a good chance to take the lead through Welbeck, who was unlucky with his effort.
On Saturday, we started well, with a lot of possession and a real intensity to it. There were a lot of one touch passes and we moved the ball from left to right very well. It may have taken us a long time to break them down but with the greatest of respect to Burnley, it always felt the breakthrough would come and when it did we would get more.
Too often this season we’ve seemed to lack any real game plan but on Saturday the strategy was obvious and played to our strengths. We retained the ball well and used it to tire Burnley out. Some were questioning the wisdom of playing Arteta and Flamini together but I can understand their selection. Flamini is our only true holding midfielder and Arteta is our most efficient midfielder in terms of utilisation of the ball. Ramsey’s passing has been erratic this season, he even misplaced some fairly routine passes when he came on against Burnley but his introduction against a fast tiring Burnley was effective overall.
There can be no mistake that Alexis, was clearly our standout player on Saturday. The level of intensity and effort he put into everything reaped reward and nothing summed this up better than his headed opener. He played like a man possessed from start to finish and it was characteristic of our play as a team.
Obviously games against top sides are a different kettle of fish and require tactical adaptions but Saturday was promising and if we can maintain that level of performance and intensity we should be able to put a run together like we did last season against sides lower down the league.
Burnley’s gradual fatigue on Saturday saw the introduction of Theo Walcott after nearly ten months out of action and it was clear to see the impact his arrival had.
Too often this season, defences have been on the front foot against us as they’ve known there’s a pretty good chance that Alexis was the only midfielder going to run off the shoulder of defenders. Oxlade-Chamberlain has done this intermittently but he isn’t as light on his feet as Theo which has its benefits as well as its drawbacks.
It will probably take Walcott until the beginning of 2015 to fully get his match fitness and sharpness back but his return is a huge boost and offers us much more in attack.
Ten is the magic number
I’m sure most people saw the rumour last week that Alexis is unhappy at Arsenal and the level of support he’s getting from his teammates more specifically Mesut Özil.
This rumour which stemmed from an article in Chile, is in my own opinion bound to be a load of crap. Clickbait designed to get British sports pages linking to the original article. However, with our first back to back wins in the league this season coming when Sanchez has played in the number ten position (albeit more of a roaming one) it does raise the question of who should play there when Özil returns. Sanchez has stated previously that he doesn’t mind if he plays wide or centrally and it has to be said he is effective in either position.
Both he and Özil are very different types of players. Sanchez likes to carry the ball and to take a few touches before releasing whereas if Özil sees a pass he generally makes it. While Sanchez is a good passer of the ball, he’s not of Özil’s level (not many are). The Chilean is stronger, more combative and has a lower centre of gravity all of which makes him more difficult to bully. This is crucial in the Premier League where attacking players are afforded less protection than most other leagues. It’s one of the things that we saw on Saturday, that for Sanchez there are no lost causes.
As much as I like Özil, the same isn’t true of him. Obviously all defenders in the league will have seen Alexis in action prior to him signing for us but they’re starting to get a better picture of how difficult he is to stop.
Against Hull and Burnley you could see opposition defenders and midfielders getting dragged towards him as he dribbled through the centre of the pitch. This creates space for other players, crucially for Walcott who thrives in these situations. This doesn’t happen so much when Sanchez plays out wide as it’s fairly obvious whose responsibility he is. The full back or maybe a holding midfielder on that side. Özil’s never going to be a player who runs at opponents and as such defenders know they don’t really need to press him as they can leave responsibility to the holding midfielder or midfielders as the case may be while they mark our centre forward.
As I’ve written before, I think Özil’s looked at his best this season in the number ten spot – his natural position – but if we suffer as a team because Sanchez has to play wide then there’s probably a decision to be made. Like Mertesacker and the German national team itself, Özil hasn’t been at his best since the World Cup. My hope is that when he returns from his injury that he plays as a number ten and forges a devastating partnership with Sanchez and Walcott on either side of him.